Riding A Bicycle Safely
Breakaway bicycle couriers are some of the safest and most skilled riders on the streets. The following guidelines are developed specifically for them, but any cyclist can benefit from these common sense rules of the road.
Safe Riding For Bike Messengers
Bicycle safety is Breakaway’s number one concern; our goal is to have no accidents at all. It’s true that being a messenger can be a dangerous job, but if you’re careful, know what you’re doing and follow some simple rules you should be able to avoid most, if not all, accidents.
Statistically speaking, most accidents happen to messengers who have been working less than 8 weeks. It doesn't matter how much time you've spent on your bike; the only way to prepare for being a messenger in Manhattan is to be a messenger in Manhattan. If you have no experience with this kind of riding, it’s all the more important to be extremely cautious.
How To Ride Safely
Wear a Helmet
It’s the law for commercial cyclists in New York City. No exceptions.
Obey All Traffic Laws
Do not run red lights. Do not ride the wrong way on a one-way street. Do not ride on the sidewalk. Operate your bicycle as if it were a car; the same rules apply.
There is a common misconception among new messengers that you have to ride fast to make money. On the contrary, you can ride slow and steady and still make money if you focus on what you’re doing when you’re not on the bike. Think about it: 50% of your time is spent doing the actual pick-ups and deliveries and not riding. This is where good communication skills and strict attention to details make a fast messenger. Consider:
- How quickly do you answer your radio?
- How quickly do you check-in after a delivery?
- How quickly do you notice problems and bring them to someone’s attention?
- Are you doing your best in transmitting and receiving information over the radio or phone?
- Do you let yourself get distracted by events on the street?
- Are you prepared to quickly fix a flat tire or other mechanical problems?
Focusing on these elements of your job can make you a much more efficient (and higher-earning) messenger than just riding as fast as possible.
Avoid Getting Doored
Getting “doored” is probably the most common type of cyclist accident. Randomly opening doors are inevitable, but you can learn to avoid them.
- Cabs are the worst offenders. Their doors open frequently, sometimes on both sides of the car. Assume that people getting out of cabs will never turn around to check for you. If you see a cab starting to slow down and pull towards the curb, it’s probably going to be followed by an open door. Look through the rear window of the cab for people starting to get out. Watch for cab lights turning off, indicating the end of the ride.
- Cabs also tend to make crazy maneuvers to reach their fares. Beware of the person standing at the curb with a raised hand; a cab can come from anywhere for the pick-up.
- Don’t speed through a narrow lane of standstill traffic. When doors open unexpectedly, there’s nowhere for you to go if you can’t stop in time. In standstill traffic, you should slow down to 1 mph.
- Keep at least a car’s door length distance from all cars so they don’t hit you even if they do open. If you’re in congested traffic and it’s impossible to stay a door’s length away, you should slow down to walking speed, so even if a door opens on you, there is enough time to react and stop before you hit the door.
Avoid Hitting a Pedestrian
Pedestrians present the greatest potential for accidents. They are everywhere, they are unpredictable, and they don’t take bicycles seriously as moving vehicles. Do everything you can to avoid this happening.
- Don’t ever assume that a pedestrian is looking out for you or that they see you – even if you’re right in front of them.
- Expected the unexpected: walking against a light; crossing in the middle of the street without looking; panicked pedestrians jumping left and right to avoid you, only to wind up right in front of you.
- Pedestrians always misjudge the speed of cyclists, thinking they can walk fast enough to get clear of the oncoming bike. In most cases, they can’t.
- “Hidden pedestrians,” obscured by a van or truck, can come out of nowhere. Pros learn to look underneath large trucks for moving feet, which are sure to indicate a pedestrian approaching.
- Try the “Paddle Move” in congested areas: take one foot off the pedal, and "paddle" your bike forward with your foot, so you can stop quickly.
- Always ride behind pedestrians so you can keep an eye on them.
- Stay as far away from pedestrians as possible. If there is a pedestrian on the right side of the street, go to the left side. Stay at least 10 feet away from all pedestrians at all times. If this is impossible, slow down to walking speed (3 mph). If you’re getting too close, stop the bike and let them go.
Watch Your Position on the Street
Positioning is crucial, and you’ll need to constantly re-evaluate your position on the street in relation to vehicles, pedestrians, safety hazards and other cyclists. Never ride in a driver’s blind spot. Carelessly putting your foot down without looking can get your toes crushed by a truck. Getting squeezed into too small a space between two buses can result in a bad skin scratches or worse. Be aware of everything around you and remember that they, too, are moving.
Unexpected Vehicle Movements
While you must ride as if you’re operating a car, those operating cars don’t always behave as if you are one. Drivers who would never cut in front of other cars to make a right from a left hand lane won’t think twice about doing that to a cyclist. At intersections, keep your eyes on the front tire of cars. Watch for the tire pivoting, indicating an upcoming turn. Slow down and let the car go ahead.
Slippery and Wet
Inclement weather increases accidents. Unexpected sewer grates, potholes and other road hazards can sometimes hide under puddles. Rain also creates slippery surfaces like wet manholes and sheets of metal. To make things worse, wet brakes slow down your stop time, so plan accordingly.
Ride with Both Hands
You never know when you’re going to need to react quickly, and you’ll need both hands to do that.
Keep Your Bike in Good Condition
There are enough external factors lurking out there, you don’t need to bring on your own problems. Keep your bike tuned, your tires filled, and your brakes in good working order.
Eat and Hydrate
If you’re a messenger riding a long (8-hour or more) day, it’s important to give yourself enough fuel and fluid to keep you going. Riding too long without eating or hydrating can make you lose concentration and slow your responses – both hazardous conditions.